Jessica Leigh Hester is a former senior associate editor at CityLab, covering environment and culture. Her work also appears in the New Yorker, The Atlantic, New York Times, Modern Farmer, Village Voice, Slate, BBC, NPR, and other outlets.
There's an affordability crisis in playland, too.
In a squeaky voice, a little girl with a mousy bob asks, “Where are all the people?”
It’s a good question. She’s looking at an enormous doll house, clocking in at 29 rooms, including a wine cellar, armory, ballroom, and library. The opulent Astolat Dollhouse Castle—appraised at $8.5 million—is artfully appointed, but nearly abandoned.
It’s on view, for the first time, at the Shops at Columbus Circle in New York’s Time Warner Center through December 8. Before this exhibition, the owner—who wishes to remain anonymous—kept it in storage for nearly two decades, arranging the 30,000 little pieces in climate-controlled boxes.
The home was designed in the 1980s by Colorado artist Elaine Diehl, who specialized in miniatures. It took 13 years to build. Assembled, the structure is nine feet tall and weighs 800 pounds.
Dorothy Twining Globus, former curator at the Museum of Arts and Design, was enlisted by the Time Warner Center to serve as a docent. She gave CityLab a tour, crouching to point out bottles filled with real whiskey, or craning to show off portraits made in the style of old masters, using a single-haired paintbrush.
Another visitor, Ruth Dodziuk-Justitz, stooped to examine a table topped with tiny geodes and crystals—a miniature cabinet of curiosities. She has close-cropped silver hair, a turquoise scarf, and round black glasses, and leaned close to the display case. “Doll houses can stop me for hours,” she said. After spotting the display, she made a detour from a trip to buy coffee at Whole Foods. “Growing up, I always wanted to have a dollhouse, and my brother always wanted a garage,” she added. “So now I collect miniatures and he collects cars.”
The house’s only resident is a wizard sequestered in a tower. Where is everyone else? Globus laughed. “New York is too expensive for dolls.”